Newcastle Knights (12th) v New Zealand Warriors (2nd)
Hunter Stadium, Saturday 11 June
12:40pm
Broadcast LIVE on Fox Sports 501

At first glance it might look like a pretty uneven contest in this 12th-versus-second clash, but two big mid-season signings might just level the playing field enough to create a good contest in Newcastle.

After a period of speculation, the Knights this week secured the contracts of Roos and Roosters outside back Brendan Elliott, along with Mounties second-rower Mitch Barnett. Elliott has shown his class in his 14 NRL games to date and while Barnett has been unable to add to his two appearances this year, many would consider him the form player of the Intrust Super Premiership NSW in 2016.

The pair haven’t been named in either grade this week, but Newcastle coach Matt Lantry explained that a call will be made late on where they will play in Round 14.

“We’ve got a few that are under an injury cloud in the top grade so Nathan (Brown, NRL coach) will train today and make his decision late this afternoon,” Lantry told NSWRL.com.au. “They’ve been brought to the club to play NRL, not necessarily Intrust Super Premiership NSW so if they perform well I assume they’re hopeful of securing a first grade position.

“It just adds a little more depth and hopefully we can start to get some troops back and begin to be a little bit healthier of a club.”

It remains a tough ask for the Knights to take down the Warriors, who have now won six games consecutively – including a 26-6 victory over Newcastle in Round 7. As usual, however, Lantry isn’t concerned with his team’s ladder position or the results of past performances.

“Irrespective of the result and irrespective of the position that we currently sit on the ladder, it’s important for our guys to take something away from each game,” Lantry said. “There’s no reason we shouldn’t be up to perform at our best as individuals to get something from the game.”

Penrith Panthers (8th) v Manly Warringah Sea Eagles (10th)
Pepper Stadium, Saturday 11 June
3pm
Streamed LIVE on PenrithPanthers.com.au
Broadcast LIVE on Hawkesbury Radio 89.9 FM

The spotlight will well and truly be on the Panthers this week, who face up to the Sea Eagles in what is an evenly-poised match in terms of ladder position. The relegation of experienced campaigners James Segeyaro and Jamie Soward to the Intrust Super Premiership signals a clear warning from head coach Anthony Griffin and, in similar fashion to the supercharged Warriors’ side of Round 9, the Panthers will be widely tipped to come away with a convincing victory.

With such anticipation, however, comes the danger of complacency and while the team has experienced significant changes already in 2016, Penrith coach Steve Georgallis has emphasised the importance of every player performing individually for the team.

“Sometimes you can get caught in the trap where the players know that two first graders are coming back, so they’ll let them do everything,” Georgallis told NSWRL.com.au, “but what’s got us the last two wins is everyone doing their own job.

“I must stress to the players that everyone still needs to do their own job and Jamie and Segeyaro will do their jobs.”

Soward – a former NSW VB Blues representative – and Segeyaro – one of the best in the NRL on his day and a contender for the Queensland no.9 jersey post-Cameron Smith – have been dropped from the top grade for a reason, which Georgallis believes should motivate them this weekend.

“Obviously both need to fix their game plan, because obviously that’s one thing that Jamie said the coach wasn’t happy with,” the Penrith mentor said. “Jamie needs to play as a half and Segeyaro needs to play as a hooker and just stick to the game plan that we’ve got prepared for this week’s game.”

In light of recent media reports surrounding a match fixing scandal, the 2015 Manly coach also believes that the whole club will be galvanised by the drama.

“Manly are going to be hard to beat, because obviously they’ve had a lot of turmoil the last two weeks,” Georgallis said. “The players over there are quite accustomed to that, they’ll come out firing and you know it’s going to be a pretty tough game.

“Obviously with two first graders playing, Manly will come out trying to prove something.”

Newtown Jets (3rd) v Wentworthville Magpies (9th)
Henson Park, Saturday 11 June
3pm
Broadcast LIVE on SteeleSports.com.au

It shapes as an intriguing match-up for Henson Park on Saturday afternoon – a ground that hasn’t seen any Intrust Super Premiership NSW matches for a month. While the Jets haven’t played at all since Round 11, with a Round 12 bye followed by a rained-out game last week, the Magpies have extended their winless streak to six and despite playing one more game than half the competition, find themselves outside the top eight.

A change in coaching personnel hasn’t helped the Magpies’ cause either – Jason Cayless replaced Joe Grima, who was forced to stand down due to health reasons – and Wentworthville were unable to get a maiden win for the new coach in last weekend’s game against the Warriors.

It seems that the Jets’ biggest danger this week could be themselves; three weeks off the field is significant and they will have to be mentally prepared for anything come Saturday afternoon. With in-form five-eighth Josh Cleeland out, Jaline Graham gets his first start of 2016 and he will have had a long time to prepare for the task at hand. If they can pick up where they left off before their break, the Jets will be hard to beat at their home ground.

Illawarra Cutters (4th) v Wests Tigers (5th)
WIN Stadium, Saturday 11 June
3pm
Broadcast LIVE on SteeleSports.com.au

The Cutters take on the Tigers for the first time in 2016 in a level affair at WIN Stadium, with reasonably stable and high-quality teams named on both sides. While Josh McCrone returns for the Cutters, forcing Siliva Havili out of the side and experienced dummy-half Sam Coster to an extended bench, the likes of Adam Quinlan, Tom Carr and Taane Milne line up as usual in the back line. With Jordan Rankin, Justin Hunt, Chance Peni, Michael Chee Kam and Watson Heleta rounding out the back for the Cutters, the Wollongong crowd will hope to see some expansive and exciting Rugby League from both teams.

Illawarra were unfortunate not to be able to play the Jets last weekend due to wet weather, while the Tigers put in a disappointing effort to concede 42 points in cyclonic conditions. They will be hoping to put that loss behind them as soon as possible as they face up to a Cutters side that is happily sitting in fourth with a game in hand. A high-scoring game will certainly be on the cards on Saturday afternoon.

Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs (11th) v Wyong Roos (7th)
Belmore Sports Ground, Saturday 11 June
3pm
Broadcast LIVE on SteeleSports.com.au

While the Roos have suffered a slide down the ladder of late, the Bulldogs are now two wins from three starts – resulting in a much more evenly-poised encounter than many would have predicted a month ago.

Since Round 10, the blue-and-whites appear to have put to bed concerns over poor finishing that robbed them of several wins in the early part of the season, while the men from Wyong have had three narrow defeats to the in-form Wests Tigers, Jets and Cutters over the same period. A recent change of personnel – Brendan Elliott has left the Roos while the Bulldogs are bolstered by the signing of former Tigers captain Asipeli Fine – may even give the home side favouritism when they meet at Belmore on Saturday.

Bulldogs coach Andy Patmore explained the decision to chase the 23-year-old second rower.

“Every time we’ve played him he’s been outstanding,” Patmore told NSWRL.com.au. “He’s got really good feet at the line, he’s an aggressive kid with impressive leg speed and he’s fitted in well. We’re just hoping that he transforms that into an NRL player shortly.”

With Fine’s signature, the Bulldogs have now signed three second-rowers on mid-season deals; Lamar Liolevave had played alongside Fine before making the move earlier this year, along with current first grader Raymond Faitala-Mariner who replaced the outgoing Shaun Lane. Patmore reiterated the importance of depth in the back row – and emphasized their roles against a monster Wyong pack.

“It’s always good to have some depth in those positions, but obviously with Josh Jackson at Origin there’s always an issue there,” Patmore said. “They (the Roos) have got (Abraham) Papalii, (Zane) Tetevano, Paki Afu – they’ve got a really big, mobile pack.

“We’ve really got to be good through the middle, making sure we can control that and give ourselves a chance.”

North Sydney Bears (6th) v Mounties (1st)
North Sydney Oval, Sunday 12 June
3pm
Broadcast LIVE on SteeleSports.com.au
Broadcast LIVE on Triple H 100.1 FM

It was a dismal performance in the wet by the Bears last weekend, conceding 30 points in conditions that shouldn’t have allowed it. The North Sydney side have shown glimpses of their defensive abilities throughout the year, however, and these will have to be on song to compete against ladder leaders Mounties this Sunday.

The Bears welcome back Eli Levido this week, who was a sorely-missed late omission in the wet weather affair in Round 13. Latrell Schaumkell is also named at fullback once again, with Sitiveni Moceidreke slotting into the five-eighth position.

Mounties, meanwhile, may just have suffered a tiny chink in their armour thanks to the mid-season exit of Mitch Barnett. Barnett was also not present in their last-start win over the Wests Tigers in Round 12 and his replacement Scott Sorenson filled in his big shoes with a solid effort in attack and defence. The visitors will also be without classy custodian Zac Santo, who impressed in just his second NRL appearance last night, but slotting into the back is try-scoring machine Kato Ottio. The move is significant for Mounties’ attack and could prove vital to the result at North Sydney Oval.